By Norland Nanny and founder of The Blissful Baby Company, Louisa Hirst.
Understanding a a baby's development is key to being able to give the sleep they need. There are scores of books out there that are dedicated to teaching you how to get your baby to sleep.
It is one of the most contentious and polarising topics in the parenting world. But little is done to teach an understanding of our baby’s developmental needs. Which is strange because, logically, this is precisely where we should start before we can ever know how best to look after our baby.
Babies sleep in cycles, divided into two parts. Rapid Eye Movement is a light sleep when baby can be easily woken and the brain is active, storing information. Non Rapid Eye Movement is a deep sleep where energy is restored, tissue grows and repairs, plus hormones for growth and development are released. The whole cycle lasts about 45 – 60 minutes which is why babies will wake at regular intervals. As your baby grows he will be physically capable of sleeping longer. Before 3 months your baby’s circadian rhythm (body clock that dictates hunger, sleep and activity) is unbalanced because the hormones Melatonin (makes us sleepy) and Cortisol (keeps us alert) are not yet produced in the brain. Therefore you cannot expect a routine from your baby before this age. The first 3 months are also known as ‘The Fourth Trimester’- your baby has been used to the sound of your heartbeat, warmth, darkness, movement, constant nutrition and the inability to smell, whilst being naked in a confined space. Mimicking these conditions, alongside the SIDS guidelines, will help make the transition from womb to world a little smoother.
Babies sleep through the night when they are physically ready (some still wake up beyond the first year!) and a baby won’t tend to take longer stretches at nap times before at least 6 months. In the first year sleep regressions tend to occur at 4, 8 and 12 months and can last up to 6 weeks. You may find your baby wakes up more frequently at night or refuses to nap in the day; he may appear more cranky than normal and have an increased appetite. This is due to your baby’s brain working overtime e.g. as they learn to babble/roll/crawl/walk.
An overtired baby will be very difficult to settle which is why it is important to read his tired signs. Your baby may become red around the eyes, yawn, rub his eyes, look away from you, become very still and stare into space. Babies under 6 months will need to go back to sleep after 2 hours of being awake. Over 6 months he will be able to stay awake for 2-3 hours, and over 9 months 3-4 hours.
The BLISS Technique
A baby should be loved, cuddled and comforted as much as possible. However, if co-sleeping isn’t for you and you’re struggling to settle your baby in his moses basket then follow these steps:
B Baby: check if baby is hungry/teething/hot/cold/thirsty or needs a nappy change
L Lighting: dim the lights to signal sleep time
I Instinct: if you need to give cuddles/feed, then of course do so but rouse baby slightly before placing him back in the cot so he is aware of his surroundings and wont be alarmed when he next wakes. Tucking a tshirt into the mattress that smells of you may help too
S Strokes: clockwise on tummy
S Shushing: use white noise/lullaby
Author’s Note: Louisa Hirst trained at the world renowned Norland College and worked as a Nanny for 10 years; she has qualifications in Post Natal Maternity Care and Breastfeeding. She now runs The Blissful Baby Company alongside being a mum herself, and offers a personal, bespoke support service on all things baby related.